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On the Down Low: A Journey into the Lives of 'Straight' Black Men Who Sleep with Men Hardcover – April 14, 2004
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The closer a secret is kept, the more powerful the impact once it is finally revealed. Such is the case with author and activist J.L. King's intriguing look at the lives and lifestyles of black men who sleep with other men but do not consider themselves to be gay. These men live "on the down low," the "DL" for short, and their sexual activities have gained significant notice as the rate of HIV/AIDS infection in black women has skyrocketed, with the vast majority of cases coming from heterosexual sex. King is a veteran of the DL himself and his book serves partly as a social and psychological survey of the other men he has surveyed and partly as highly candid memoir. King was well regarded in his community, popular at his church, successful in his career, and married to a woman who had no idea that his secret life existed. But when she caught him in a lie and with another man, the marriage collapsed and King's long and painful path to self-awareness began. King cites the negative image many socially conservative black men have of homosexuality as an obstacle to those men being honest with their partners and themselves about who they are. Among the more intriguing elements of On the Down Low are the peculiar approaches men on the DL have to the sexual act, seeking a strictly physical sexual relationship with their secret male partners while remaining in more traditional arrangements with women. Whether this discrepancy is a product of scrupulously guarded secrecy and shame or the natural preference of an understudied sexual identity is one of the numerous questions raised by this book. Though the infection statistics make the DL a huge public health issue, King is neither a sociologist nor a medical professional. And while a more clinical look at this issue would be welcome, King accomplished what he set out to do: provide light and insight into a world that so many have worked so hard to keep in the shadows. --John Moe
King is very straightforward about the phenomenon, called the down low, of "straight" men having sex with other men without disclosing it to the women in their lives. Having spent more than 20 years living the dual life of the down low, King is familiar with all the personal, psychological, social, and even religious implications of living on the down low and the risks this lifestyle poses to the spread of HIV and AIDS. He recalls his struggle with self-gratification, the fear of exposure, and the responsibility to his family before coming to the conclusion that he owed his family honesty. King also cites respect for black women as a motive for disclosing his secret, though the reader might question how much respect he had for 20 years. But that's part of King's point in his disclosure, that men on the down low and the black community itself, with little tolerance of homosexuality, need to be more honest and open on issues of sexuality. This is a revealing look at an important social and health issue. Vernon Ford
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